I am getting confused about the first paragraph from this article.

In the discourse on international relations, we routinely differentiate between various categories of states and label them according to certain criteria that we consider relevant for our understanding of the dynamics of international politics. Sometimes these criteria are purely factual, but mostly they have an evaluative, even moralizing, overtone. For example, the denotation of a state as a coastal state, inland state, nuclear state, or nuclear-power state is both factual and informative. Arguably, labels like "Great Power", "small state", or "developing state" combine factual with evaluative elements. But most state labels have a predominantly evaluative character. Labels such as "failed or failing state", "semisovereign state", "democratic state", "rogue state", or "outlaw state" are largely contested and accepted only by those who share the evaluative assumptions which form the basis of such a marker.

I can understand the first sentence, but I cannot comprehend what the italic part is trying to convey. First it says most state labels have an evaluative character, but then it says those evaluative labels are accepted only by certain people, which in my understanding, it means those evaluative labels are not commonly accepted. This makes the paragraph seems contradictory to me.

Is my understanding of only wrong, or there is something else I am missing?

  • 1
    You are reading it right. But whether the labels are commonly accepted depends on whether the evaluative assumptions are commonly shared. If the assumptions are common, the labels will also be common. It may be true that only insects with wings can fly, but that doesn't make gnats and mosquitos rare.
    – jejorda2
    Oct 18, 2016 at 20:56
  • @jejorda2 Thank you for your clarification. Rigorously speaking your explanation is absolutely right, but I still cannot get what is the point the author tries to convey. I mean if he tries to say there are a lot of evaluative labels, then what is the purpose of the "accepted only by" sentence?
    – cr001
    Oct 18, 2016 at 21:05

1 Answer 1


I don't see a contradiction here. From your post it sounds to me as if you are accidentally conflating the role of speakers and listeners:

  • most state labels have a predominantly evaluative character means that when people talk about states, they tend to use labels that apply a subjective evaluation to the state (as in the given examples "failed state", "rogue state", etc.)

  • most evaluative state labels are largely contested, and [are] accepted only by those who share [the assumptions behind the labels] means that when you hear an evaluative label like "failed state", you are more likely to disagree with the label than to agree with it. (Specifically, you only agree with it if you share many of the same assumptions about the state as the speaker has.)

In essence, the passage is simply saying that "most speakers who label states use judgmental labels when doing so, and most listeners will find those labels rather subjective, arguable, or simply wrong."

  • Thank you so much! Indeed I did not distinguish between speakers and listeners and that was exactly why I did not understand the paragraph.
    – cr001
    Oct 18, 2016 at 21:19

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